Immanuel Wallerstein’s Life and Thoughts in General

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Abstract 

Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein is an American sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst, arguably best known for his development of the general approach in sociology which led to the emergence of his world-systems approach. He publishes bimonthly syndicated commentaries on world affairs. He has been a Senior Research Scholar at Yale University since 2000. Wallerstein is a man who needs to be understood in detail. Throughout this paper, I will focus on the influences of Wallerstein’s intellectual development and the concepts that led to the formation of Wallerstein’s theories. In this work, we will consider Wallerstein’s life in detail to understand the historical development of his theories.

Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein was born on September 28, 1930 in New York.  His family was very politically conscious, and world affairs were always being discussed in their home.[1] He received his bachelor’s (Sociology), master’s and doctorate degrees from Columbia University. During his studies, he has been very interested in politics. When he graduated from Columbia University in 1951 (undergraduate), he joined many conferences about Africa and anti-colonial movements in Africa. We can say that he was very interested in Africa during his graduation from university. This interest, led to him being recognized as an Africanist in Europe and allow him to be an expert about Africa. After he serve in the U.S army from 1951-1953, he decided to write his master thesis about McCarthyism.

Wallerstein was annoyed from McCarthyism because of its effects.  After he completes his thesis on “McCarthyism and U.S Foreign Policy” in 1954, he completed his PhD thesis on “The Road to Independence: Ghana and the Ivory Coast Road” in 1959. Also, between the 1955-1970, he travelled many parts of Africa and wrote numerous books about it. These things led to Wallerstein appointed president of the African Studies Association in 1973. During this period, he was interested in West Africa. That’s why he lived Paris for a while.

The experience of Wallerstein’s first trip to Africa in 1952 gives us many significant information about him. When he went to Dakar, he saw an Africa with nationalist movements while the colonialism is in last times. According to Wallerstein, the public was very optimistic in Dakar, especially the youngers. In addition Wallerstein says that the folk were sure the brilliance of the future and trusted to could reshape their world; “Above all, they were longing to get rid of all sorts of tutelages, to produce their own political decisions, to develop their own elements for public services and to participate fully in world nations politics.”[2] However, when Wallerstein tells his Africa stories in 1994, he adds “the world is very different from the old, and that the African year of 1960 is far away.”  It is crucial that, he gives examples about the “Afro-pessimism” in worldwide impact. He also queries that how did a continent full of hope, became expressed in such negative terms by foreigners (even by many of its own intellectuals).  As far as I am concerned, the situation of Africa is still valid and there is a hope. Nowadays Turkey has a big role of many parts of African countries to improve their economic development and trade. Also Prof. Ahmet Kavas has the same thought with Wallerstein about Africa’s power, especially younger folks and international Afro-pessimism thing on media topics. And his book titled “Geçmişten Günümüze Afrika” is one of the main books written to destroy this Afro-pessimism perception in international news. He makes the reader interested in Africa with the interesting stories about Africa’s history.

To get back to the main point of Wallerstein’s thoughts; the time that he lived in Paris was too important for Wallerstein’s intellectual development. When he was in Paris, he met Fernand Braudel(1902-1985) and and Braudel’s Annales School. This is one of the main concept that is about his life. Moreover Karl Marx (1818- 1883), Joseph Schumpeter(1883-1950) and Karl Polanyi(1886-1964) were significant people that affect Wallerstein. [3] Karl Marx and Fernand Braduel are the main references to Wallerstein’s theoretical work “The Modern World System”.  Furthermore, Modern World System – II was dedicated to Fernand Braudel. Exclusively, Wallerstein has a personal relationship with Braudel. We can say that the Annales school had significant effects on Wallerstein’s development of methodology. This seems in “longue dureé” approach in brief. [4]

To understand what we mean by a world economy; Wallerstein says that he owes the concept of world-economy to Braudel, which forms the basis of his “Modern World System” books. (Braudel’s economie-monde) ” The concept of world-economy, which is in use today, assumes that there are a number of “separate economies” that are “national” in the field, and under certain conditions, these “national economies” are shopping with each other, and the sum of these limited contacts is called international economy.”[5] In contrast, the meaning of Braudel’s world-economy concept “is a large geographic zone within which there is a division of labor and hence significant internal exchange of basic or essential goods as well as flows of capital and labor.  Also it is not bounded by a unitary political structure. Rather, there are many political units inside the world -economy, loosely tied together in our modern world system in an interstate system. And a world-economy contains many cultures and groups-practicing many religions, speaking many languages, differing in their everyday patterns.” [6] In addition Wallerstein says, “The world-system was then located in only a part of globe, primarily in parts of Europe and the Americas. It expanded over time to cover the whole globe. It is and has always been a world-economy. It is and has always been a capitalist world-economy.”[7]

Secondly, Karl Marx is the second name that affect Wallerstein’s ideas. Both Marx and Wallerstein think that the capitalist economy is the basis of society. They also base social relations on conflict and exploitation. The difference between the Marx and Wallerstein is basic exploitation relationships. While Marx thinks basic relation of exploitation as the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat working class; Wallerstein thinks these relations of exploitation as a relationship between the core, the periphery and the semi-periphery within a world system that transcends nation states. [8]

Wallerstein also establishes a link between sociology and Marxism. He says; “We’re all a little Marxist.” He also makes a suggestion to the younger generation. He says, “The first thing I have to say to young people is that they have to read him. Do not read about him, but read Marx.” … “People learn about them through others people’s summary. They want to save time but, actually, that is a waste of time” … “One must read interesting people and Marx is the most interesting scholar of the 19th and 20th centuries. There is no question about that. No one is equal to him in terms of the number of things he wrote about, nor for the quality of his analysis.”[9] I agree with him but there is a contradiction for me, because when I researched Immanuel Wallerstein, I devoted a greater time to secondary resources than his own. To be honest,  this also made it difficult for me to understand and waste my time. In addition, there is a sentence about Karl Marx topic;  “Marx as scholar, one does not have to ascribe to the views of Marx as revolutionary.”[10]

As a summary of chapter 4 and the part titled “The Capitalist World-System”;  Basicly, there are some differences and similarities between the Realists and the Economic Structuralists. One of the main similarity between them is about anarchy. “Anarchy simply refers to the absence of a superordinate or central political authority”. Wallerstein notes that ‘the absence of a single political authority makes it impossible for anyone to legislate the general will of the world system and hence to curtail the capitalist mode of production.’ Anarchy, therefore, is defined in political terms for both Wallerstein and those realists who discuss the importance of the absence of any central authority in the world.”[11] The difference between them is about implications of anarchy. For the realist, anarchy is a concept that analyze international political stability, war and balance-of-power politics involving major states.  “For the economic structuralists, the economic ramifications of political anarchy are paramount. The political anarchy of the interstate system facilitates the development and expansion of world capitalism because no single state can control the entire world economy.” The result of these things are division of labor involving a core, a periphery, and a semiperiphery. “The core areas historically have engaged in the most advanced economic activities, the periphery has provided raw materials and the semiperiphery is involved in a mix of production activities.” In addition, it is possible to move one type of status to another.

According to Wallerstein, in the past, a state became a hegemonic state three times in a capitalist world-economy. Wallerstein says that some states in the position of hegemony reflect the production advantages of military-political superiority. This movement causes the life span of the states to be short because the production advantages cannot be maintained indefinitely.[12]

Beginning part of “After Liberalism”, Wallerstein said, “The collapse of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the U.S.S.R were celebrated as communism and the collapse of Marxism-Leninism as an ideological force in the modern world.”[13] He says that this true, but this not the victory of liberalism. On the contrary, these events showed the collapse of liberalism and our attempt to reach the “post-liberal” world. When we look at this, this is a very interesting discourse. Because all we thought that the two ideology like in absolute negative connection until now. The loss of one meant that the other would win. In contrast to Wallerstein, Francis Fukuyama said that in the post-cold war world, liberal institutions and thought structures would remain the dominant elements; capitalism was an endless and inevitable ultimate system. Therefore, in the ideological sense, humanity has reached the final point.

In addition, Wallerstein believes that the period after liberalism is a more important period of political struggle than all other periods in the last 500 years. He says “all things need to change to make things unchanged”, and there are people with privileges, cleverly try to accomplish this.  By looking at his writings, we can say that he is very pessimistic about the future. He says in his 1994 writings, “From 1990 to 2025/2050, there will probably be a shortage of peace, stability and legitimacy. The reason for this is the weakening of the US, which is the hegemonic power of the world system. But the real cause is the crisis in the world system.”[14] Not only in this discourse but in many of his articles he often emphasizes that the future will be much worse than today.

In the book titled “Piyasa Düşmanı Kapitalizm” by Mustafa Ozel, Wallerstein’s discussion of the rise of the West is a substantial point. Why we tell the west ‘rose’ because of its intensive growth? He says that because growth is a universal value. “What makes it universal? This is a value that is imposed on the whole world in cultural terms. Has the West really risen? In Polanyi’s words, “While the economy should be embedded in social relations, social relations where embedded in the economy’ And this bizarre system was founded by the west. This system is irrational and unsustainable.”[15]

Conclusion

Karl Marx, Fernand Braudel and his Annales School have a great influence on the formation and development of Wallerstein’s thoughts. Wallerstein is a person who influences our lives in many areas. Their disclosure and processing requires a much longer period of time and knowledge. Only the core, periphery and semi-periphery relations are deep enough to cover the whole work. Universalism, racism, sexism are the other topics that Wallerstein argued in the reading part of International Relations Theory book. In this study, Wallerstein’s basic assumptions and frequently repeated issues are discussed.

Ceren YILDIZ
References:

Kaya, Tülay. «Immanuel Wallterstein: Eserleri Çerçevesinde Entelektüel Gelişimi.» Sosyoloji Dergisi, 2007: 102-118.

Musto, Marcello. Read Karl Marx! A Conversation With Immanuel Wallerstein. 24 March 2018. https://truthout.org/articles/read-karl-marx-a-conversation-with-immanuel-wallerstein/.

Özel, Mustafa. Piyasa Düşmanı Kapitalizm. İz Yayıncılık, tarih yok.

The Development of an Intellectual Position. tarih yok. https://www.iwallerstein.com/intellectual-itinerary/.

VIOTTI, Paul, ve Mark KAUPPI. International Relations Theory. Pearson Education, 2011.

Wallerstein, Immanuel. Liberalizm’den Sonra. Çeviren Erol Öz. İstanbul, Beyoğlu: Metis Yayınları, 1998.

YEŞİLDAL, Hatice. «Dünya Sistemi Kuramı: Immanuel Wallerstein.» Çağdaş Sosyoloji Kuramları (T.C Anadolu Üniversitesi Yayını), 2012: 172-193.

 

[1] https://www.iwallerstein.com/intellectual-itinerary/

[2] Immanuel WALLERSTEIN, Liberalizm’den Sonra, “Afrika’nın Umudu Ne? Dünyanın Umudu Ne? 53. New York Times,10 Ekim 1994, p.53.

[3] Karl Polanyi and Joseph Schumpeter also an economist.

[4] Longue durée is an expression used by the French Annales School of historical writing to designate their approach to the study of history. According to Braudel, the long-term longue durée is the historical process in which the change is slow, the history of repeated repetitions, recurrent fluctuations. Braudel has proposed a wide range of topics ranging from climate, geography, natural disasters, population structure, customs and traditions, fashion, food, technology to economics and political institutions.

[5] Mustafa ÖZEL, Piyasa Düşmanı Kapitalizm, p.219.

[6] Paul V. VIOTTI, Mark V. Kauppi, International Relations Theory, (5th Edition), p.227.

[7] Paul V. VIOTTI, Mark V. Kauppi, International Relations Theory, (5th Edition), p.227.

[8] T.C Anadolu Üniversitesi Yayını No: 2673, Çağdaş Sosyoloji Kuramları, p.117.

[9] https://truthout.org/articles/read-karl-marx-a-conversation-with-immanuel-wallerstein/

[10] Paul V. VIOTTI, Mark V. Kauppi, International Relations Theory, (5th Edition), p. 193.

[11] Paul V. VIOTTI, Mark V. Kauppi, International Relations Theory, (5th Edition), p.204.

[12] Mustafa ÖZEL, Piyasa Düşmanı Kapitalizm, p. 222.

[13] Immanuel WALLERSTEIN, Liberalizm’den Sonra, “Liberalizm’den Sonra Mı?” p.9.

[14] Immanuel WALLERSTEIN, Liberalizm’den Sonra, “Barış, İstikrar ve Meşruiyet, 1990-2025/2050” p.33.

[15] Mustafa ÖZEL, Piyasa Düşmanı Kapitalizm, p.232.

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